Fringe Festival Review: Huffing Lysol

"Sometimes when I watch television, perhaps checking out the latest Brangelina gossip on Entertainment Tonight, coupled with some commercials for the news about Sunni vs. Shia throat-slitting, amid ads for Subway and Cover Girl, I think to myself, 'Is this actually reality or am I just huffing Lysol?'" reflects Aviva Zimmerman. "Because reality is nuts, man."

That was the inspiration behind Huffing Lysol, a comedy of patchwork skits that poke fun at the absurdity of contemporary culture. Zimmerman, who penned and directed the piece, is a local thespian do-gooder--she founded the Red Door Family Shelter's Drama Day Extravaganza, a drama camp for local homeless youth--and her latest production is social critique that's as funny as it is smart.

The Consumer's never-ending pursuit of hollow, Visa-bought happiness, the developed world's elephant-in-the-room approach to the problems of the Third World, society's pathetic obsession with Hollywood celebrities--all are fair game in Huffing Lysol. Global conflicts and human rights atrocities are contrasted with the mindless, happy-go-lucky complacency of North American society to great effect.

The ideas may be nothing new, but Zimmerman's knack for illuminating them with a highly original spin makes this show a quirky, thought-provoking romp through pop culture. Highlights include a chilling stream of consciousness monologue performed by Zimmerman herself, a spoof of celebrity gossip television entitled Hollywood Hullabaloo and a sketch about the 2004 Beslan school siege by Chechen separatists. The few departures from comedy in the play--sudden, short bursts of raw emotion from the perspective of those living modern day nightmares--are highly effective.

And while Zimmerman's razor-sharp writing shines, it is the play's exceptionally talented cast that really make Huffing Lysol a joy to watch. It is a great ensemble effort, but each actor is also strong in his or her own right. Jennifer Dzialoszysnki, though petite, is a pocket rocket with larger-than-life stage presence. Nils Hognestad, onstage, is pizzazz personified. Tim Daugulis has impeccable comedic timing. Chelsea O'Connor's facial contortions are studied exercises in hilarity.

Oftentimes, theatre like this makes audiences just uncomfortable enough to vow a change in habit--I heard a "I should really stop buying Us Magazine" as I exited the theatre--but not uncomfortable enough to sustain the resolve. Huffing Lysol challenges viewers to think critically long after the stage curtains have descended. Its program is devoid of the usual self back-patting and long industry thank-yous; rather, it highlights many of the world events that the play referenced. From the Pol Pot regime and the marginalized Hmong people of Laos to the civilian shooting in Tel Afar and child soldiers in Uganda, it presents brief synopses and urges viewers to get more information themselves through various websites. Hats off to you, Kicked in the Head Productions--nicely done.

Ballsy, smart, hilarious and refreshing, Huffing Lysol is satire extraordinaire and exactly what I love about the Fringe.

Rating: *** 1/2

Remaining showtimes:
Saturday, July 8, 9:30pm
Sunday, July 9, 7:30pm
Monday, July 10, 1:15pm
Thursday, July 13, 11:00pm
Friday, July 14, 3:45pm
Sunday, July 16, 2:45pm

Venue 5 - Factory Studio Theatre (125 Bathurst)

Psst: Part of the proceeds from the show will be donated to the Red Door Family Shelter and the Cambodian Land Mine Museum.

The Toronto Fringe Festival features local, national and international companies at 28 venues. Tickets are $10 or less ($2 surcharge on advance tickets) and discount passes are available. Advance tickets sold up to three hours prior to showtime by phone, online or in person at the Fringe Club (292 Brunswick, at Bloor). At least half of all tickets for each performance go on sale one hour before showtime at the venue. Festival runs until July 16. Fringe Hotline: 416-966-1062.

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